Political Culture: The Palin-Prejean Connection

Written by Current Events, Political Culture

One of them reached the grandest stage in her profession by virtue of her charm and very-good looks, only to be judged harshly upon that stage for her ignorance and her intolerance. Despite her second-place finish, she earned a new constituency that was far more adoring (and, potentially, much more lucrative) than her old one. In the end, she found herself distracted by the glittering promise of a new career as a celebrity moral scold, to the point where she could no longer be bothered to fulfill her obligations in the lofty yet insufficiently high-profile position she had already attained.

The other one, it turns out, is Carrie Prejean.

Now that summer’s here and her Miss California crown is gone, this year’s spring queen of “opposite marriage” finds herself playing Miss Congeniality in the headlines to another, even kookier Christian-right hottie. Sarah Palin’s sudden, “I-don’t-wanna-be-governor-anymore” cri de coeur of last week caught the political world by surprise, but it really shouldn’t have; for months now, Alaskans seem to have sensed that there was no way they could keep her down on the farm after she’d seen Paree. (I suppose the reference works better if you substitute “frozen tundra” for “farm” and “Bible Belt” for “Paree,” but let’s move on.) The day-to-day drudgery of running the nation’s coldest state clearly paled in comparison to the spotlight that will no doubt be trained on her for perpetuity – as long as she has the media savvy to high-tail it to the Lower 48 ASAP.

I was going to use the phrase “good sense” in place of “media savvy” in the previous sentence, but last week’s impromptu press conference seems to have closed the book once and for all on the use of the words “good sense” anywhere near “Sarah Palin.” With her ever-present props children at her side, she threw excuses at the cameras like a toddler pitching a bowl of spaghetti at the wall – not so much to see if anything sticks, but to see if anybody’s still paying attention.

I don’t wanna be a lame duck and abuse my position to promote myself, like all those other politicians do! (I’d rather throw the state’s legislative agenda into utter chaos, and cut the distance I have to travel to get to my TV gigs.)

I don’t want the citizens of Alaska to have to pay for all these unfair ethics investigations! (Though I had no problem charging you a per diem for my nights at home in Wasilla.)

I wanna focus on “energy independence” and “national security”! (As soon as somebody tells me – slowly, now – what those phrases mean.)

Most of all, I wanna shield my children from the unfair ridicule of the mainstream media! (To which one can only respond, to the Republican Party as a whole: Aren’t you glad you had this guy at your convention last year?)

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In all honesty, I have to give Palin credit. To paraphrase Billy Crystal at the end of When Harry Met Sally…, once she knew how she wanted to spend the rest of her life, she wanted the rest of her life to start as soon as possible. Since her resignation, every liberal analyst (and many conservatives as well) has insisted that her political career is over because she couldn’t even complete one term before flaking. But who are we to judge? Palin’s paucity of qualification or competence didn’t stop her from appearing on ballots nationwide last November – thanks again, Johnny Mac! – and there’s no reason to believe that the folks who have become so devoted to her will give up on her now. In a Republican Party as depleted and desperate as the current one, that may be enough to propel her to the top of the ticket sometime in the near future.

After all, stranger things have happened. Ask this guy!

Actually, once (and future?) DC mayor Marion Barry serves as an ideal bridge between discussions of Palin and Prejean. In between the most recent additions to his rap sheet – tax evasion last winter, bizarre stalking allegations that surfaced last week before charges were dropped yesterday – the current city councilor emerged this spring as one of the most vocal opponents of the council’s decision to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. Though a self-described advocate of gay rights, Barry stuck his finger in the air and decided that the winds of public opinion in his working-class ward were blowing with the local African-American preachers who (inexplicably) continue to choose Bible-thumping bigotry over civil rights when it comes to same-sex marriage. “All hell is going to break loose,” Barry said after voting against the measure. “We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this.”

Never mind the ironic spectacle of a black leader – disgraced or not – invoking civil war in order to deny rights to an oppressed group of Americans. (By the way, the measure took effect on Tuesday, and so far the only public figure in town to have hell break loose on him is Barry. Even though police are no longer pursuing the case, his relationship with the woman who accused him of stalking her appears tawdrier and tawdrier with each media revelation.) Barry’s rise and fall and rise and fall and rise … and now, perhaps, fall … should offer lessons for both Palin and Prejean in the second (and third, and fourth) acts available to American public figures who can manage to retain a base of support despite failures of character and/or service. Barry has never lost the esteem of DC’s black community, or at least a significant chunk of it; the man even got himself elected to one more term as mayor after the feds filmed him smoking that crack pipe back in 1990!

Compared to that, Prejean’s failure to attend contractually obligated public appearances and her insistence upon making other appearances without pageant approval – the crimes that, allegedly at least, cost her her crown last month – seem like small potatoes. Prejean played the martyr, of course, because martyrs are the kind of heroes that Christian conservatives like best. She griped that a pageant official had forwarded offers for her to pose for Playboy or appear on I’m a Celebrity — Get Me Out of Here!, and she claimed she had been castigated for wanting to appear at the Special Olympics. Since then she has lowered her public profile a bit … though I’m excited to say that she’s been booked as the keynote speaker for next week’s annual meeting of the Ventura County Young Republicans, just up the road from me in wingnut heaven, otherwise known as Simi Valley, CA.

Rumors have been circulating that Fox News is courting Prejean – supposedly there was an offer out back in May for her to guest-host a morning of Fox & Friends as an audition. My guess is that Palin, for the time being at least, is headed in the same direction. Her model in such an endeavor would be Pat Buchanan, who used his punditry as a springboard to scare the bejeezus out of Bush the Elder in ’92 and then help throw the 2000 election to Bush the Younger with all those butterfly-ballot votes in Palm Beach County.

So far the jokesters have Palin co-hosting a talk show with Joe the Plumber; my personal preference would be for her to join Mike Huckabee on his weekend Fox program, where they could trade moral outrage and diet tips.

But what about a Palin-Prejean team? They would instantly be the hottest pair of wackjobs on television, and at the very least they’d give Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb a run for their money. Or they could level out MSNBC’s liberal bias (and pump up the third-place newsnet’s anemic ratings) by joining its morning-show cast. I’ve got the perfect title: 2 Girls and 1 Cup … of Morning Joe.